The “Crowded Lawn” Theory

26 07 2009

I think perhaps the most repugnant comment that I have read in response to my previous post was one in which I am accused of having ordered a certain group of people "off the lawn."  It’s not "my" lawn, folks, and I couldn’t order people off of it, or invite people onto it, even if I wanted to.

Someone derisively referred to me as a member of the "old guard."  That would actually qualify as an unintended compliment if it were true.  When I hear the phrase "old guard" I think of names like Frazier, Joron, Yolen, Boston, Rezmerski, Sneyd…I think we can all agree that I’m not in that group.

I’m disappointed, though, at this "us against them" mentality.  I’m disappointed that one SF poet’s opinion can throw a certain segment of the speculative poetry community into a berserk rage.  Above all else I am disappointed that a certain segment of the speculative poetry community felt the need to distort what I said so that they could more viciously attack it.

Let’s be clear.  The bulk of my first post was in response to things said by another member of the community.  I provided links to the material in question and I stated my opinion on the subject.  What everyone (or at least those who read and chose to comment) wants to focus on is one statement:

Star*Line is and should remain a science and science fiction poetry magazine.

I am well aware that Star*Line has published non science and science fiction poetry, generally to whatever extent the current editor wants to include it.  That does not change the fact that, at it’s core, Star*Line is a science fiction poetry magazine and has historically published more SF poetry than other kinds.

In a commentary entitled "Original Light: Our Rhyslings," reprinted in the September/October 1987 issue of Star*Line, Robert Frazier divides the entire field into four distinct sub-genres: Science fiction poetry, fantasy poetry, science-oriented poetry, and speculative poetry.  Regarding speculative poetry Frazier writes: Speculative poetry, to me, is a catch-all term for fantastic poetry that doesn’t fall into the first three categories.

It’s not the only view, of course.  In an interview that I did with Elissa Malcohn, former editor of Star*Line, she wrote: I consider science fiction poetry to be a subset of speculative poetry — and would say the same for fantasy, horror, and science poetry.  I love Ms. Malcohn to bits–she was the first editor to begin accepting my work–but I think on the whole I prefer Mr. Frazier’s definition if for no other reason than that it allows the term "speculative poetry" to include some of the more interstitial works.  Over the years I have incorporated Mr. Frazier’s definition into my own thinking.  It simply makes better sense to me to think of "speculative poetry" as one of four sub-genres (five, I suppose, if we give horror its own slot) of a larger poetic movement.  Given that, perhaps my fellow poets could begin to understand why I feel that changing the name of the Science Fiction Poetry Association to something like Speculative Poetry Association doesn’t solve anything.  SPA is no more inclusive a term than SFPA.

The question is, do we need to be all clumped together into one all-inclusive organization?  In the fiction world, science fiction, fantasy, and horror all seem to coexist well enough, even though they are distinctly different genres.

If I can put my imaginary "old guard" hat back on for a minute, I can remember a time in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when determined people published Star*Line-like magazines devoted exclusively to the type of poetry that they liked to write and read.  Enough of them that Janet Fox, bless her, had to publish Scavenger’s Newsletter just to keep up with them all.

Times have changed.  I get that.  But I would still prefer to see more genre-specific poetry outlets rather than fewer all-inclusive ones.  It’s a personal opinion, nothing more.  I’m not knocking anybody else’s genre, and I’m not ordering anybody onto or off of "the lawn."

Finally, I apologize for the length of these posts.  I still haven’t figured out how to do that deal where you post part of the thing, then click on a link to read the rest.  Maybe if I weren’t so damn old…

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13 responses

26 07 2009
time_shark

Dude, you did tell a couple people they had no place in this discussion. That’s what I’d call inviting trouble in for tea.

26 07 2009
sa_kelly

I told one person that they had no place in the discussion, and I did so for a very specific reason that I choose not to discuss openly. I spoke regrettably, and in anger, that is true.

26 07 2009
samhenderson

Your discussion of the history of science fiction/speculative poetry defining itself is invaluable. But I think you need to understand that a lot of people who would find it useful and illuminating aren’t going to get past — or at least their opinion will be colored be — your accusing people engaged in this debate of going into a “berserk rage.” It’s like your use of the word “hysterical” in response to my comment to the other post (and I know you weren’t calling me hysterical) – it’s inaccurate, triggering, and distracts from the valid and useful parts of the conversation.

26 07 2009
sa_kelly

I will admit that I should have toned down the rhetoric from the get-go. You and time_shark makes points that I cannot duck, so I might as well meet them head on. Initially I was just angry over what I perceived to be unfair comments made toward Star*Line. That was meant to be the whole discussion from my end. In the process, I got cross-ways with two fellow poets with whom I have been friends for some time. Beyond that I simply let my emotions get in the way of the honest debate that I wanted to engage. I stand by the points that I have been attempting to make, but I will readily admit that I probably could have made them in a more productive manner.
Thank you for the link, too. I appreciate it.
–Scott

26 07 2009
samhenderson

You are welcome for the link, and I appreciate your response.
I do think your perspective is valuable as part of this debate.

26 07 2009
samhenderson

Apropos of nothing to do with the debate (although it’s a topic there now), you may want to add http://community.livejournal.com/spec_poetry/ to your communities.

26 07 2009
dkolodji

I’m stepping in a bit late here, but there are a couple of points I’d like to make before I get back to doing the things I’m supposed to be doing instead of being online right now.
1. The Science Fiction Poetry Associaton has always been about poetry encompassing all flavors of fantastical literature. We can call it “science fiction” in the way that the 1970’s grouped everyting under this heading in the bookstore. (The problem, of course, being that it no longer means exactly what it meant back then since fantasy and horror are now separated out as separate genres.) We can call it speculative poetry (I’m in agreement with Elissa’s definition of “speculative”). But what ever we call it, it is that poetry that draws us all together – that poetry about science, science fiction, fantasy, horror, surrealism, and slipstream. Star*Line and all the Rhysling Anthology have always published poems from all of these genres. I don’t want S*L to stop publishing science fiction poetry. I don’t want it to stop publishing fantasy or horror or slipstream either.
2. We are stronger together than separated into little subgroups. As a community of “speculative poets,” we can champion all of these flavors of poetry with a “fantastical” bent more effectively, than we could as small separated groups of sf poets, fantasy poets, horror poets, etc. One of my personal goals as president has been to build bridges between diverse subgroups of poetry, whether between ourselves (fantasy vs sf, horror vs science, etc), or between us and the larger poetry community (sfpa vs haiku community, sfpa vs literary/mainstream poetry community).
As part of those bridging efforts, I have:
a. Produced poetry sampler trifold brochures spotlighting horror and fantasy poetry for World Horror Ccn and World Fantasy. I also did one for World Con in 2006 on scifaiku.
b. Invited Denise Dumars to do a column on finding genre poetry in non-genre places. This was to battle the charge that the Rhysling Awards were too insulated within the genre poetry community, a charge that is often made against the organization at Rhysling Nomination announcement time. I wanted members to be aware of speculative poetry being published outside our normal community publications.
c. Proposed to do a talk on speculative haiku at Haiku North America at the National Archives of Canada in Ottawa. This is happening on August 7th in Ottawa.
d. Started the online web contest to attract poets who write speculative poetry who are outside the normal sf/f/h communities and who may be publishing mostly in mainstream journals. A fairly large group of members found us and joined the SFPA through the contest.
3. Because we are stronger together than apart, I would really urge members to be tolerant of opposing viewpoints within the SFPA. I do not want fantasy poets to feel they do not belong and I do not want sf poets to feel that they are becoming increasingly marginalized.
As for myself, I do not self-identify myself as a sf poet over a fantasy poet or vice versa. I am a poet who writes both sf and fantasy, probably more sf than fantasy, but that is subject to change without notice at the whims of my own personal poetic muse.

26 07 2009
sa_kelly

That sounds pretty definitive to me.
If you don’t mind, I’m gonna copy and print that, then paste it on the wall in front of my desk on the off-chance that I might happen to glance across it the next time decide to call somebody out on something.
Thank you for some order in this particular void.
–Scott

27 07 2009
dichroic

My problems with the idea of “more genre-specific poetry outlets rather than fewer all-inclusive ones” are:
First and most important, at a time when several good venues are either closed to submissions or dying out, I’m afraid that in practice, what we’d get if we took the former tack would be fewer genre-specific poetry outlets. I don’t think that really serves anyone well.
Second and only important to me: I’d be bored. I *like* variety. All I can really say is that I’m not a horror poet: I’ve written SF stuff, fantasy stuff, mythic stuff, and a lot of stuff that isn’t speculative at all. My brain doesn’t compartmentalize well. I’m not a specialist in *anything*; I’m a generalist by nature and temperament. What I really like are online formats like Goblin Fruit or Lone Star or Coyote Wild, where I can read a thing or two, go away and come back later, because if I read a whole bunch of the same thing together, they just blur for me (I haven;t made it far through GUD for that reason; hard to skip around a PDF.). Best of all would be an online magazine with that format that had a variety of stuff from across the specpo genre, so I could have variety and read what I felt like reading, to let each poem impact me individually.

27 07 2009
ysabetwordsmith

Thoughts
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. From what I’ve seen, more people objected to the phrasing than the intent, although plenty of people objected to the intent also. For what it’s worth, I looked up your LJ after people started fussing about you. While I prefer an inclusive professional organization to an exclusive one, I do like your idea of having many markets as opposed to fewer markets.
Have you downloaded the free client Semagic yet? It makes cut-tags easy and includes many other useful tools. I use it for my posts. You can find it here:
http://semagic.sourceforge.net/

27 07 2009
sa_kelly

Re: Thoughts
Well thank you for reading. My “revolutionary days” are over. They lasted all of a weekend, and that was quite enough for me. I think I’ll go back to mumbling into my beard.
I don’t have a beard, actually.
Thank you for the link. I’m not going to post again until I figure out how to do that thing.
Nice meeting you.

28 07 2009
dichroic

Re: Thoughts
By the way, you do a cut tag by typing
pointy open-bracket lj-cut text=”whatever you want it to say” pointy close-bracket

28 07 2009
sa_kelly

Re: Thoughts
That’s what I was looking for. Thanks Di.

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